PHOENIX - Sex in the storage room, kissing in the kitchen, romping in the restroom. It sounds like the plot for a salacious movie, but it's the reality of what's happening inside the Arizona state prison system.
Like one case, when, according to a report, an inmate had sex with a female officer in the visitation porter closet.
Or another case, when a female officer admitted to having sex 10 to 15 times with an inmate in the prison's tool room.
Or another one, when a female officer was busted for performing a sex act on an inmate inside the prison's control room. That's the prison's central nervous system, the place where guards monitor what the inmates are doing and where the controls that can open and close cell block doors live.
"It creates disorder within the prison. That makes it a dangerous place for both the prisoners and for the guards," said criminal defense attorney Russ Richelsoph.
Richelsoph said anytime an inmate gets too close to an officer it's bad news for everyone.
"When you have a prison system that's rife with abuse, whether it's sexual favors being traded, contraband being brought in," he said.
That's the other problem, we're not just talking about sex. Often times the employee will bring in banned items for the inmate. Things like marijuana, cigarettes and cell phones.
"How valuable are cell phones in prison?" I asked.
"It's my understanding that they're more valuable than drugs in prison," Richelsoph said.
It makes sense when you think about it. Prison phones are monitored and if you can get your hands on a cell phone, you can call anybody.
"So a cell phone is useful because I can transact business, essentially, with my associates outside the prison from a cell phone that I have in prison," Richelsoph said.
That's a nice way of saying people behind bars can keep up their illegal gigs while serving time.
"That's a public safety risk," I said to ADC spokesman Doug Nick.
"It is a public safety risk. We don't want to have cell phones in prison, it's a huge contraband issue," Nick said.
Nick agreed to sit down with ABC15 News to talk about this big problem.
"There is that line between staff and inmate and that line should never, ever be crossed," Nick said.
There's even a plaque in every prison reminding employees about that line.
"Officers in training get at least 16 hours on this subject alone, about sexual misconduct," Nick said.
The officers have to sign forms, saying they won't cross that line. And if they do, it's a felony.
"Absolutely it's a felony. A crime committed of a sexual nature, sexual assault, sexual misconduct, whatever the case may be, is in fact a felony and it's punishable, potentially, by prison time," Nick said.
Of the 23 cases we discovered, ten corrections employees were convicted of a crime. In 12 cases, the county attorneys decided not to prosecute and one case was dismissed.
"None of these employees work in the department any longer because we do take it so gravely seriously," Nick said.
But clearly the penalty isn't enough to deter everyone.
"I would probably guess that for every one that's been caught, there are nine other incidents where they haven't been caught," Richelsoph said.
"It's something we take seriously and we're always looking at our policies and procedures to make them better," Nick said.
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